Health Considerations

There's at least one more area that can be a direct benefit to many people -- I know it has certainly helped me. Typing on the keyboard for many hours every day is not the healthiest of practices. Every keyboard on the market today carries a warning about repetitive stress injuries (RSI), and with good reason. Not everyone will have problems, and not everyone that has problems will experience the same degree of discomfort. However, the more you type and the older you get, the greater your chance for developing RSI from computer use. Needless to say, I am one of the many people in the world who has developed carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

There are many things you can do to try and combat carpal tunnel problems. Some people feel that ergonomic keyboards will help, and at least for me I found it to be more comfortable than a regular keyboard. Getting a better chair and desk will also help -- you want a chair and desk that will put your wrists and hands in the proper position in order to minimize strain; if you're not comfortable sitting at your computer, you should probably invest in a new chair at the very least.

Even with modifications to your work area, though, there's a reasonable chance that you'll still have difficulty. You might consider surgery, but while that will generally help 70% of people initially, many find that discomfort returns within a couple years. The simple fact of the matter is that the best way to avoid RSI complications is to eliminate the repetitive activity that's causing the problem in the first place. That means that if typing on a keyboard is giving you CTS, the best way to alleviate the problem is to not type on a keyboard anymore. That makes it rather difficult to write for a living, as you can imagine.

Of course, it usually isn't necessary to completely stop an activity that's causing RSI. The phrase itself gives you an idea of how to avoid difficulties: avoid excessive repetition. Typing 20 pages of text per day on a computer would probably cause anyone to get CTS eventually. Typing 10 pages per day would probably cause problems for many people, but not for everyone. Typing five pages per day would likely only affect a smaller portion of the population. Finally, if you could cut it down to one or two pages per day, most people would be fine. That brings us to the present topic: speech recognition. Used properly, speech recognition has the potential to eliminate a large portion of your typing, among other things.

Languages are complex enough that learning a new language is always difficult. We spend years growing up in an environment, learning the language, learning the rules, developing our own accent, etc. No two people in the world are going to sound exactly alike, and it goes without saying that everyone makes periodic mistakes in grammar and pronunciation while speaking. Programming a computer so that it understands everything that we say, corrects the mistakes, and gets all the grammar correct as well is a daunting task at best. Nevertheless, speech recognition has so many potential benefits that it is considered one of the Holy Grail landmarks that we want to achieve, and research on the problem has been in progress for decades.

As time has passed, computers have gotten faster and the algorithms have improved, and we're at the point now where real-time speech recognition is actually feasible. Mistakes will still be made, and dealing with different accents and/or speech impediments only serves to make things more difficult, but for many people it is now possible to get accuracy higher than 90%. That isn't that great, as it means one or two mistakes per sentence, but it's a good place to start. I've got a couple pieces of software that purport to achieve higher than 90% accuracy rates after training, so that will allow us to perform some real world benchmarks.

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  • FrankyJunior - Sunday, April 30, 2006 - link

    For anyone that wants to try Dragon, I just noticed that the preferred version is in the CompUSA ad today for $99.

    Never would have looked twice at it if I hadn't read this article yesterday.
    Reply
  • NullSubroutine - Thursday, April 27, 2006 - link

    are we to the day when i say 'computer' and it does what i want, and when i time travel by going around the sun ill be confused when they hand me a mouse and keyboard when wanting to use a computer? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, April 27, 2006 - link

    Almost. And if you go around the sun *backwards* you can travel through time in the other direction. :D Reply
  • quanta - Tuesday, April 25, 2006 - link

    How about a review based on http://www.voicebox.com">VoiceBox Tehnologies products? It was demonstrated on Discovery Channel, and it seems to work without extensive voice training, and it actually _understand_ human speeches. The Discovery Channel can be found in http://www.exn.ca/dailyplanet/view.asp?date=3/13/2...">here. Reply
  • rico - Tuesday, April 25, 2006 - link

    Where did you find Dragon Pro for $160? I thought it ususally cost about $800. Thanks. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 25, 2006 - link

    Heh, sorry - got "Preferred" and "Professional" mixed up. I'm not entirely sure what Pro includes, i.e. "Comes with a full set of network deployment tools."

    Trying to surf through Nuance's site is a bit tricky, and finding prices takes some effort as well. I think the only difference between Standard and Preferred is the ability to transcribe recordings in preferred - can anyone confirm for sure? I asked Nuance and didn't get a reply.
    Reply
  • Tabah - Sunday, April 23, 2006 - link

    Excellent article/review. Here's the question I've been wondering. Personally I use DNS for blogging and generally anything that requires excessive typing. A friend of mine on the other hand swears by IBM ViaVoice. Any chance we could get a comparison article/review at a later date? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 25, 2006 - link

    I will try to get in touch with IBM. I'm sure they wouldn't mind participating in a follow-up article. Reply
  • Tabah - Tuesday, April 25, 2006 - link

    Oddly enough ViaVoice is licensed by Nuance so you might have a better chance talking to them. The main reason I'd like to see a comparison between VV and DNS isn't so much because they're made/released by the same company, but because off the cost difference between them. Like I said before I really like DNS but VV at the high end (VV Pro USB vs DNS Pro) is still a few hundred dollars cheaper. Reply
  • Poser - Sunday, April 23, 2006 - link

    Listening to the dictation files, I was amazed that all the punctuation was spoken. I would have expected that they would (or could) be replaced by using a non-speech sound. Something along the lines of a click of the tongue for a comma -- there's a good number of distinct sounds you can make with your tongue that we don't have words for but that anyone could recognize and make. Think of "The Gods Must be Crazy" and the language used by the Kalahari bushmen for an extreme example.

    Also, thanks for the article, it was really interesting and potentially very helpful! I'll hold off until Vista hits and I see some comparisons, but I'm certain now that I'll end up using one of the two.
    Reply

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